Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
Dental implants are all the rage—and for good reason: They’re incredibly “tooth-like,” both in appearance and function. They also have a stunningly high success rate: More than 95% of implants still function after ten years. This means out of thousands of implants installed each year, only a handful fail.
But although that’s an amazingly low number, they’re still failures for real people who’ve suffered a loss. If you’re considering dental implants the chances of that being your experience are quite low. But it could still happen.
Here’s a few things you can do to make sure your implants don’t fail.
Stop smoking. Of the small percentage of implant failures, an inordinate number are smokers. A smoker’s chances of implant failure are roughly double those of non-smokers. Smoking, and to some degree any tobacco use, can make your mouth an unhealthier place: Not only can it increase your dental disease risk, but it can interfere with the healing process after implant placement and increase the chances of early failure.
Manage your health. Diabetes and similar systemic conditions can interfere with the healing process too, which could impact your implant attachment to bone. Diabetics thus run a slight risk of implant failure—but actual failures mostly involve patients who don’t have good control of their symptoms. If you’re a diabetic, properly managing your condition will lower your risk of implant failure to nearly identical that of someone without diabetes.
Treat gum disease. Implants in themselves are immune to disease—but the underlying bone that supports them isn’t. A gum disease infection could eventually weaken and diminish the implant-bone attachment. If this happens around an implant, its stability can be severely compromised. The best strategy is to prevent gum disease through daily, thorough brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And if you see any symptoms like gum swelling, redness or bleeding, see your dentist as soon as possible.
Your implants could serve you well for decades. Just be sure you’re doing the right things to ensure their longevity.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails.”
$9.1 billion: That's how much we Americans spent in 2018 on Halloween festivities, according to the National Retail Federation. And a sizeable chunk of that was for candy—a whopping 600 million pounds worth. That, my friends, is a lot of sugary goodness. For kids, it's what Halloween is all about—scoring a sack full of sticky, gooey, crunchy candy. For parents, though, all that sugar raises concerns for their kids' dental health.
That's because of something that loves sugar as much as little humans: oral bacteria. The more these microscopic creatures consume, the more they reproduce, which consequently leads to more mouth acid, a by-product of their digestion. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the mineral content in enamel and create the conditions for tooth decay.
To cut to the chase, excessive candy consumption increases the risk of tooth decay. Short of banning candy and ruining your kids' holiday fun, what then can you do to lower that risk this Halloween?
Here are a few tips:
Limit candy to mealtimes. The mouth's acid levels tend to rise while we're eating. The body counters with saliva, which has the capacity to neutralize acid and restore lost minerals to enamel. But if your kids are snacking on sweets over a long period, saliva can't get ahead of the recurring waves of acid. So, try to limit your kids' candy consumption to a few pieces at mealtimes only.
Don't brush right after eating candy. The short period during and after eating of high acid levels can still soften tooth enamel. If your child brushes soon after eating candy, they could also remove tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before brushing to allow saliva time to remineralize the enamel.
Encourage alternatives to candy as Halloween treats. While candy is a huge part of Halloween, it needn't have a monopoly on all the celebratory fun. So, encourage your little tricksters to accept—and their treaters to provide—other kinds of treats like small toys, glow sticks, or other items that count as treasure to children (be sure they're age-appropriate, though).
Halloween is a great time of family fun, and candy may always play a prominent role in the merriment. Just be sure to practice moderation with sweet Halloween treats to avoid dental problems down the road.
If you would like more information about how to manage your family's sugar consumption for optimum dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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